THE nEoFILM CHRISTMAS FILM FESTIVAL ~ 2012


Running from the December 12th (12/12/12) up until December 25th (That’s Christmas Day to everyone else!) this celebration of frestive films dominated this blog. This is the collection of of that festival, with all the reviews and the final round up post included.

THE REVIEWS

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

1993

DIRECTOR: Henry Selick

May Contain Spoilers!

Whilst Tim Burton was directing Batman Returns, he was also producing this stop-motion animation classic. The influence of Batman’s second outing was clear, and I’m sure that there was a nod to Returns in the scene when the Mayer of Halloween Town is looking for Jack Skellington, with a picture of  bat and cat on a plan for next years Halloween.

The story is well conceived, as Jack Skelington, the master mind of the Halloween, is bored with his endless role in the macabre holiday and discovers Christmas Town. Whilst there, he becomes obsessed with Christmas and returns home and arranges for Halloween Town to take over the holiday that year.

Jack’s obsession leads him to research Christmas but he can’t understand it, leading to a christmas sack filled with shrunken heads and a host of other macabre gifts. The beauty of this film is that it is aimed at everyone. It feels like a kids film but the humour is classic Burton, as is the style. Jack’s obsession is handled in a mature fashion too, a concept that is not fully understandable by children but enough so as to understand his actions.

The other masterstroke here is that almost all the characters of Halloween Town are good. Their motives by trying to put on Christmas are admirable and Jack’s sorrow at his inevitable failure is also very touching. Bad things happen to good people, or creatures, throughout but there’s little malice. it walks a line which fairy tales often do, but this is little a more brasen about doing so.

With a blend of humour, scares and striking imagery, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a great watch for all the family, and a through-back into the days of Grimm and Anderson, only in the final days of the 20th Century.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS 3D

2011

DIRECTORS: Sarah Smith & Barry Cook

CINEMA REVIEW

Will we be adding this to our collection? YES

Ardman Animation’s move into digimation from the safely of Wallace and Gromit was not all smooth sailing, with the rather below par Flushed Away, but with Arthur Christmas, they have clearly reached a high note. Funny, entertaining and well cast, this story, whilst taking a different take on Santa Clause and answering the question of “how does he do it” with a breath of fresh air, the feeling of Christmas was well served and maintained.

It was fun and heart-warming at times, but again the 3D was fine but became somewhat redundant. This was certainly one of the best Christmas films that I’ve seen in along time.

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

1992

DIRECTOR: Brian Henson

May Contain Spoilers!

The Muppets have always been a strangely compelling creation. Taken seriously as personalities by their creators and fans alike, Kurmet and Miss Piggy are as timeless as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, whilst  managing to maintain their characters over the time without them becoming diminished of tamed, as with the Looney Tunes characters.

The 90’s saw a revival of the franchise in the form of movies, such as this and The Muppet Treasure Island and the short lived TV series rehash. There’s no doubt of the success of these films, though the series left a lot to be desired, but to me, it just doesn’t do it. Scrooge of played admirably by Michael Caine, and in turn it is he who drives the script, with a lot of help for our Muppets.

But with these classic stories being retold in Muppet form, the characters that are the Muppets are subdued and it’s this that works for me normally, and something which has been lost here. This is a decent enough family Christmas film, the kids will love it and it filled with Christmas cheer and a very festive atmosphere but it just falls short for me, and leaves me a little cold. Appropriate fro the time time of year though.

THE GRINCH

2000

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

May Contain Spoilers!

It all started with The Mask (1994) and Dumb And Dumber (1994) for Jim Carey. The Cable Guy (1996) almost derailed his career and hits such as Liar Liar (1997) and The Truman Show (1998) put him right back on top. But here we have The Grinch, and he plays the part brilliantly. There’s no doubting Carey’s comedic performances and he will always deliver something outrageous if not always funny.

Here. he takes on the roll of one of America’s most notable Christmas characters, Doctor’s Seuss’ The Grinch, as the green, deviant of Whoville who ends up living in exile in the mountains over the town, trying to ruin Christmas for the festive-centric inhabitants. But, as he tries to steal Christmas, will he come to understand what the holiday is all about?

Well, we’ll leave somethings up in the air, but this was an acceptable version of the story, who’s only really handicap being that it is a live action film. The make up effects will always fall short of any animated affair and in many ways, I prefer the Who’s from Horton Hears A Who (2009), another foray in to the imagination Seuss for Carey, which was of course a Digimation rather than a live action film. The film is very staged and I feel that this lets it down a bit but on the other hand, it does feel very festive, its colorful and again, I feel that this is a successful Christmas film on that basis.

It’s predictability, coupled with Carey’s anarchic comedy makes for a simple and yet entertaining 90 minutes, and one which the kids will enjoy as much the child inside you.

THE POLAR EXPRESS 3D

2004

sU

DIRECTOR: Robert Zemekis

May Contain Spoilers!

I must admit that this film never really appealed to me. I seemed to be a schmaltzy slice of the Cola-cola embodied Christmas, with Americana smeared all over it for good luck, and in many ways, it didn’t disappoint. But that was very much its appeal in the end. Robert Zemekis is a brilliant director, with a dramatic eye, and a great sense of action, but he’s also an innovator, seemingly on a relentless quest to move cinema on, in ways not to dissimilar to Georges Méliès, D. W. Griffiths and Fritz Lang back in the early decades of cinema.

This was an effort to move motion capture forward, but it’s taken another 5 years before Avatar finally nailed it, but it was films like The Polar Express which serve as an invaluable marker in its progress. But enough about the technical aspects, I simply liked this film.

The 3D, though in this case viewed through anaglyth RED/CYAN, was very good, though ghosty in this format. The action was well conceived and executed and overall there was just a great sense of pace and clean fun. Christmas has been embodied well in this film and it is clear as to why it is such a hit with children and parents alike. Enjoyable and fun, and though it offers nothing particularly new to the genre of seasonal feel good movies, it does its job well and I would look forward to watching this again and again.

I shall doubt Zemekis no more…

GREMLINS

1984

CANDLES 8

DIRECTOR: Joe Dante

Is this a horror film? Well, sort of. Is this aimed at kids or adult? Well, both I suppose. The film is rated 15 by the BBFC back in 1984 when Gremlins first burst on to our cinema screens and rose like cream to the top of the comedy horror genre. The rating system was to change soon after as this and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom had created such controversy over the family nature and darker elements being summed up with such extreme ratings. PG was too soft, whilst R too strong? Welcome PG-13, well in the U.S. anyway.

Everyone’s seen it and every kid MUST see it. The scares are innocent but effective with enough tongue in cheek for us take it as seriously as they do.

It doesn’t mock itself or the genre but flatters it with its cine-literacy and a grand sense of stylist black comedy. Joe Dante’s direction is witty and this another Chris Columbus screenplay, the next great one being The Goonies the following year, before he would go on to direct the first two Harry Potter films.

I was never happy with Columbus’s directorial projects, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson And The Lightening Thief, not much in it some would say, with the exception of Home Alone, but the mid 80’s was his heyday as a screenwriter, with Gremlins and The Goonies proving their worth.

This is a pleasure to watch and with the correct balance of serious film making, savvy writing and a real sense of what the audience wanted, this has gone on to become one of the great 80’s hits, commercially and critically.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

its_a_wonderful_life_ver31946

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

May Contain Spoilers!

The Christmas classic which has left an unparalleled mark on movie history and the Family Christmas is undoubtedly, Frank Capra’s, It’s A Wonderful Life. Like many seasonal classics, this has gained its fame and recognition from TV showings over the seven decades since its initial release, but it’s clearly NOT a Christmas film in the traditional sense. Yes, it’s set on Christmas Eve and it features a Christmas miracle but most of it is pretty dark and set over the span of George Bailey’s (James Stewart) life.

It tells the simple story of how a good man’s life has more meaningful and has a greater impact on those around him than he could have possibly known, and is shown this by Clarence, a second class angel on a mission to get his wings. He fights for the underdog and sacrifices his own dreams in the process. This and the prospect of prison following his uncles mistake in misplacing $8000 of his banks money, eventually leads him to contemplate suicide. It is here that Clarence shows him what life would have been like without him and coins one of cinema and TV’s most used, or overused plot devices!

But the beauty of this classic is that it is a real film in its own right, whether you watch it at Christmas time of in June! It’s dark but moralistic tone plays out like a religious parable, with Stewart’s character facing off against the seemingly evil Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) in order to protect the little man. In post-war 1946 America, this banker helping the working class would have been very topical but even today, in a world were bankers are perceived as crooks and thieves, the idea of Bailey’s idealism is appealing, a shows in a macrocosmic way how economy and socialism can work hand in hand.

wl3But enough politics. This is a deeply meaningful and yet whimsical take, which is heartwarming throughout for all the right reasons. Family and proper, decent family values are promoted here, not the schmaltzy ones, but the REAL values, not perfect people in the perfect family, but family and friends sticking together for their collective betterment. The idea that two of life’s “Little people” standing shoulder to shoulder can hold their own against one “Fat cat”.

It’s A Wonderful Life is just one of Frank Capra’s brilliant movies. A man with a clear social message but in this case, using a man born into money to tell his story. This is Scrooge but in reverse. The happy ending comes not from learning from the error of his ways but the realisation that he was already a good man and that his deeds would pay divides when he truly needed them too.

A classic, well shot, acted and conceived. A worthy classic if ever there was one.

ELF

2003

CANDLES 4

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau

NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? NO

It was last Christmas Eve and not a creature was stirring, we sat down to wrap the last of the presents, whilst the kids were in bed and we watched this. Christmas might as well have been cancelled! I can’t tell you how much of a disappointment this film was to me. I’m so-so with Will Farrell, but I am coming around to him, but this was a poor film from start to finish.

Ferrell is a human boy who was brought up by elves and as an Elf, though he never really fitted it. He returns to earth to find his real father, who happen’s to be James Caan. The comedy was barely possible and just outright stupid at times. Is this aimed at a child audience or not? It doesn’t seem to be quite sure.

Simply put, if you’re looking for a good Christmas movie, look at It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, or even Santa Claus: The Movie! But if you’re looking for a film with any elf-respect, then look else where…

SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE

1985

DIRECTOR: Jeannot Szwarc

May Contain Spoilers!

I can remember this coming out in 1985, The Santa Clause (1994) as it were of the 80’s. It’s not amazing, but it’s a serviceable festive treat. Santa Claus is given a plausible back story and evolves nicely into the character which all grew up with and love.

But I feel that this is supposed to be a Dudley Moore vehicle. Tosh! If anyone was to steal the show from Santa, it would have to be the wonderful, John Lithgow, as quite rightly, as he plays the villainous toy manufacturer,  B.Z. who takes what was becoming a paint by numbers affair and gave it some life. Flamboyant and over the top, Lithgow adds a sense of pantomime villainy which actually gives us something and someone to root for. And what does it say about this movie, that the title character, one of the most iconic in modern western culture, should be relegated to third billing, and we thought that Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was bad, with Michael Keaton following Jack Nicholson.

More of a classic that many would give it credit for, but hardly Miracle On 34th Street (1947), but is a film which feels like Christmas to kids of today and a reminder of Christmas Eve for us children of then 1980’s.

FOUR CHRISTMASES

four_christmases_xlg2008

DIRECTOR: Seth Gordon

NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? NO

Four Christmases: For wacky families and two selfish lovers. The recipe for a Christmas classic? I don’t think so. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are too professionals who, each year, avoid seeing their respective families and go on holiday abroad. But when bad weather cancels their flight to Fiji, they are caught out by a TV news team who put them on the air. This results in their families seeing them and they must spend the next day, Christmas Day travelling to all four of their family’s homes.

For a start, this is a LONG day. Their first stop is Vaughn’s father, Robert Duval, who is just HORRIBLE. Not his acting, but his character who spends all of his screen time demeaning his son. Next up is Witherspoon’s mother, Mary Steenburgen, who is an evangelist. This spawns one of the film funniest moments as the couple are spontaneously cast in the church’s production  of the nativity and Vaughn literally steals the show.

On to his mother, Sissy Spacek, who has run off with Vaughn’s best friend who is obviously no longer his friend, as his peer attempts to play stepfather. This is also one of the funnier segments as well as one of the most predictable as the couple discover that they know less about each other that they thought.

And finally, we end with Jon Voight as her father. Boring and wise, he nicely douse any comedy atmosphere which has being building so far, as does the couple who break up over the fact that she has suddenly decided that she wants a family! Like I said, one hell of a LONG day! They should really be breaking up because if it’s that easy to end, then they had nothing to start with in the first place!

Four Christmases is actually better that it first sounds. It initially comes across as a commercial project, with big name, old school stars taking on the roles of the parents as the younger, more bankable stars take a tour of American family values on Christmas Day. Well, yeah, we get plenty of that but in the process there are a few good laughs but nowhere near as many as there should have been. Vaughn’s humour is an acquired taste and I’m only so so on it but the Nativity scene and his reaction to the creepy set up with his mother and his so-called best friend, are high points.

NOT a Christmas classic but an okay film to watch during the festive season, between Scrooge and It’s A Wonderful Life!


ROUND UP AND CONCLUSIONS

Well, in the immortal words of Porky Pig, “That’s All Folks!”. I hope that you’ve all enjoyed my personal look at a selection of festive films from throughout movie history. This is not intended to be a definitive or diverse look at the genre, but simply a selection of reviews of films which I have watched with my family over the festive period.

But it’s time to take one last look at the movies which I had chosen to review in an effort to get some sense of how Christmas movies rate in the grand scheme of my movie fanaticism.

OVERALL RATING: 7.2/10 which would mean that my movie mood for the festive period has been a GOOD.

Clearly, even though I love Christmas and spending time with my family, the films which I must watch which my wife and five kids do little for me on the whole, and Christmas Schmaltz is more palatable that I often give it credit for. In small doses, its saccharine taste can be bearable but something which I can live without for the remaining 11 months of the year. Science Fiction & Fantasy led the way though, with The Nightmare Before Christmas (1994), The Polar Express (2004), Gremlins (1984) and Arthur Christmas 3D (2011) leading the way, and the festive Elf (2003), falling well behind.

Well, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little taste of Christmas on the pearl screen that you’ve all had a very Happy Christmas and will go on to have a wonderful,  film filled New Year.

Advertisements

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s